|Publication number||US7621846 B2|
|Application number||US 10/765,704|
|Publication date||24 Nov 2009|
|Filing date||26 Jan 2004|
|Priority date||26 Jan 2003|
|Also published as||EP1588308A2, US7988599, US20040229730, US20100035723, WO2004067101A2, WO2004067101A3|
|Publication number||10765704, 765704, US 7621846 B2, US 7621846B2, US-B2-7621846, US7621846 B2, US7621846B2|
|Inventors||Mark E. Ainsworth, Robert J. Silbernagel, Susan W. M. Bell|
|Original Assignee||Precor Incorporated|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (66), Non-Patent Citations (5), Referenced by (23), Classifications (13), Legal Events (3)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
This patent application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/442,934, filed Jan. 26, 2003.
The present invention pertains to the servicing of exercise equipment, especially in clubs, gyms, and other facilities having large numbers of exercise equipment, and more particularly to a system for automatically obtaining service information from fitness equipment units and automatically sending service alerts to selected recipients when fitness equipment units require service or repair.
In general, fitness facilities and clubs (such as Gold's Gym, Bally's, 24-Hour Fitness, etc.) obtain service information regarding their fitness equipment units (FEUs) via one of two methods. In the older method, when an FEU becomes inoperative, a patron typically alerts a manager or other personnel at the particular fitness facility. The manager then inspects the unit and determines whether a telephone call to a service provider is warranted. If so, the provider sends a serviceperson to the facility to diagnose and repair the problem. The unit is then put back in operation. The information regarding each of these events is sometimes manually tracked by the facility and/or the service provider.
In the second method, each FEU is equipped with a display screen and various internal monitoring components. The monitoring components determine when a problem exists within the FEU. The components then either report this information in the form of an error code displayed on the unit's screen or simply registers the problem on an internal interface board. When a particular FEU becomes inoperative, the patron alerts a facility employee of the problem. The employee then goes to the unit to determine whether a telephone call to the service provider is needed. If so, the provider sends a serviceperson to the facility to diagnose and fix the problem. The FEU is then put back in operation. As above, the information regarding each of these events is sometimes manually tracked by the facility and/or the service provider.
As will be appreciated, the current situation is labor intensive, costly, time-consuming, error-prone, and inefficient. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the current system gives patrons a negative impression of the fitness facility because the patron is aware of a broken FEU. It also makes patrons irritated in that they have to either spend time reporting a broken unit or forego reporting it and feel guilty or disgusted. Moreover, the patron may have to wait until another similar FEU is available for use. Another disadvantage to the above system is that the type and frequency of problems experienced by a particular FEU is generally lost. This information has use in determining warranty rights and responsibilities as well as making FEU replacement decisions. In currently warranty reporting, the facility manager generally relies on anecdote and unsubstantiated impressions of the performance of a particular FEU.
Thus, a need exists for a more efficient service tracking and alerting system for FEUs at fitness facilities. A more ideal system would be capable of not only tracking such problem events, but also of immediately alerting at least the facility personnel when a problem has arisen. This way, the facility personnel can immediately post an “Out of Service” sign on the machine, and the patron will not have to become involved.
The present invention is directed to fulfilling these needs and others as described below. The present invention is a service tracking and alerting system for FEUs. Various aspects of the present invention are presented that may be used in combination or separately. In accordance with one aspect, an information tracking system includes a control server or ICS to gather real time service information from one or more FEUs via a wireless connection and to store the information in a temporary database. The service tracking system may include one or more subsystems of multiple ICSs linked to a remotely located accumulated data storage unit or silo having a permanent storage data base. The singular or multiple silos with their corresponding ICSs may be controlled, accessed and interrogated through an enterprise level platform having associated software and hardware. A service alert message may be generated and sent to one or more recipients should one or more of the FEUs experience a significant service event. A reporting interface allows users to access service information via the enterprise platform from the data storage units and/or the ICSs via the Internet or other type of network, including both real time and history service, usage, warranty, and other information.
The foregoing aspects and many of the attendant advantages of this invention will become more readily appreciated as the same become better understood by reference to the following detailed description, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
The present invention is a service tracking and alerting system 18 for FEUs located at fitness facilities. These fitness facilities can be commercial fitness clubs and gyms, exercise facilities at schools and universities, resorts, hotels, social clubs or companies, as well as all other locations where FEUs are used. The present invention has a number of unique aspects that may be used in combination or alone. Therefore, while the text and depictions below describe and illustrate one system having all aspects, it is to be kept in mind that portions of the system 18 may be used separately.
Referring initially to
The system 18 of the present invention is further capable of providing service alert messages to one or more users if the state of a particular FEU should warrant. The service alert message may be generated by the ICS 20, the accumulated data storage unit 26, and/or the enterprise level platform 32 depending on the criteria set for sending it. The service alert message is preferably sent via a data/communications network 29 which may be in the form of email, instant message, a voice mail message, text message via cellular phone, walkie-talkie, a pager, etc.
In more detail and referring to
In one embodiment of the present invention, the ICS may run operating system software 36, such as an object based operating system. Non-limiting examples of applicable operating systems include Microsoft Windows™ or Linux™. For applications software, the ICS may run a database engine 38 to manage and search the data in the database of the ICS. One such search engine is sold under the name Filemaker™. A plugin 40 may be used in the database engine to allow the database records to be accessed from an Internet browser. Web Companion™ is one such plugin. The applications software may also include software 42 to enable the database software to read from and write to serial ports of the ICS computer. One such software for this purpose is Trio™. Of course, other data ports of the ICS may be utilized for data input and output other than the serial port. The applications software may also include plugin 44 to enable the database software to send emails. One such software is SMTPit™. If service alert messages are sent other than via email, then other appropriate software can be utilized with the chosen database engine. In addition, the application software may include a component 46 to schedule scripts. One such plugin is sold under the trademark Events™. Of course, some of the foregoing applications' functions may be integrated together rather than constituting individual plugins for the database management software 38.
Also, other application software may be utilized with the ICS 20, other than those described above, to perform those functions described above and other functions required of the ICS pursuant to the present invention. In this regard, the ICS may utilize software that is part of the enterprise level software. One such integrated software is Envenergy Mediator. This particular software has many of the functions of the foregoing plugins already integrated therein. Also, with this software, significant records are not maintained on the ICS; rather, the data collected by the ICS is periodically transferred to the silo 26 and thereafter the data in the ICS is purged.
Alternatively, the ICS could be software applications that are loadable onto an existing personal computer or other computer and capable of accomplishing these functions. In one embodiment, the ICS is a dedicated computer residing at the facility of the FEUs and including a centralized memory 34 for storing collected service information.
By being “associated” with a fitness facility, the ICS may be located at the facility itself, or it may be located off-site from the facility. This may depend in part on the communication link used between the FEUs and the ICS. Also, depending on the number of ICSs at a particular facility, it may be necessary to utilize more than one ICS at a facility or club.
The ICS includes the ability to poll the FEUs at their facility, either sequentially or simultaneously, and to make such information accessible to one or more users. By way of background, current FEUs may have the ability to internally track various types of service information and data, for example, e.g., odometer reading, current status, error history, etc. Such machines typically include a two-way communications port following the “Communication Protocols and Standards for Exercise Equipment”, or CSAFE port, for short. The CSAFE port is an industry standard that is shaped somewhat similarly to a telephone jack. In one embodiment of the present invention, each FEU includes an radio frequency transceiver connected to the CSAFE port and also to a transceiver 48 connected to a communications port of the ICS. An example of such a transceiver is the AeroComm RF transceiver model No. AC5124C, manufactured by AeroComm, Lenexa, Kans., USA. Alternatively, other wireless protocols or even a power line transceiver may be used in lieu of the RF-based transceivers.
As shown primarily in
The present invention may also be utilized in conjunction with other types of exercise equipment, for instance an elliptical trainer 24 as illustrated in
Sensors 124 and 126 sense, among other operating parameters, the angle of the ramp 102, the rotational speed of the flywheel 114, the resistance being applied to a flywheel by a braking system, not shown, the number of revolutions of the flywheel, the time duration of the exercise session, as well as other parameters. As in the cycle 22, the elliptical trainer 24 also includes a radio frequency transceiver 128 that is wired to or otherwise connected to a CSAFE port 130.
According to the present invention, in one embodiment, ICS 20 is used to sequentially poll each FEU regarding one of a multitude of service information data types. See
Each ICS has driver software to enable the ICS to communicate with the radio frequency transceiver, as well as driver software to receive the CSAFE format data from the FEU and convert such data to a desired format for storing in the ICS, and/or transmitting onto the silo 26 and/or enterprise platform 32.
The database 34 has one service information record 140 for each FEU for each time polled, see
The ICS 20 may maintain a history database 141 showing the usage of the FEUs being monitored, see
The ICS 20 may also include an errors database 143 containing information on the current and previous errors for all of the FEUs at a particular location, see
The server 146 is operated under operating system and applications software, as would typically be the case. The operating system software 166 may be an object-based software or other type of software. As with the case of ICS 20, the server 146 may operate various types of application software, including a database engine 168 to organize and control the database 27 and also to obtain information from and organize information in the database when so instructed by the user, as discussed more fully below. To this end, the server 146 may also include an Internet browser access software 170, software to read from and write to the computer 172, software 174 to send e-mails or other types of communications from the server, and software 176 to schedule scripts. As with the ICSs, the software of the server 146 may be part of the overall enterprise level software, and thus integrated with the enterprise platform.
The present invention contemplates that system 18 would consist of a number of silos 26 with corresponding ICSs 20. These multiple silo systems are managed by the enterprise level platform 32,
As noted above, each ICS 20 periodically sends the contents of its temporary database 25 to the accumulated data storage unit 26 for permanent storage in permanent database 27. The connection between the ICS and the accumulated data storage unit 26 is via the network 29 which may be “a connection via the Internet”, which could be wireless (i.e. 802.11), or by network cable, dial-up modem, satellite, etc. This allows the ICS 20 to reuse its memory for storing more new real time service information from FEUs. To this end, the server 146 includes a communications unit 180 as well as applicable hardware and software, to enable the server to communicate over the network 29 with the ICSs, also with users, as discussed more fully below.
In addition, the service information stored in the accumulated data storage unit 26 has a multitude of uses, many of which are described in detail below. The transfer of real time service information to the accumulated data storage 26 unit can be done on predefined time basis, or when a certain criteria is met (such as the ICS memory is close to being full), or according to whatever other basis is desired.
The service information collected by the ICS 20 and the accumulated data storage unit 26 preferably includes service information from all types of FEUs of a particular club or facility, including those FEUs from different manufacturers. As discussed below, the present invention can provide the club owner with a great amount of useful information. Further, it is possible to form a single accumulated data storage unit that is industry wide. Thus, ICSs from different fitness clubs could transmit service information to a single accumulated data storage unit. All manufacturers could have access to the accumulated data storage unit and would be required to use a unique access method in order to gain access to data on the FEUs that they manufactured.
The ICS 20 and accumulated data storage unit 26 each store some information that is the same, and may also store information that is unique to one or the other. For example, the ICS system memory 34 may also store associated notes regarding a particular event, e.g., patron comments, the manager on duty at the time of an event, use counters to alert management of the need for more machines, as well as other specific information 182, etc. By way of another example, the accumulated data storage database 27 may also store facility locations, manager phone numbers, time in existence, and other specific information 184, etc.
In one embodiment of the present invention, the permanent database 27 contain, for each FEU, one record 186 per event. Types of information may include those listed above concerning the information stored in the harvesting memory 34, for example: FEU identification number, state, date and time, odometer value, hour meter value, speeds, incline, resistance, power use, course, workout performance, error code, etc.
In accordance with further aspects of this invention and referring to
The ICS 20 captures the service information and makes a determination as to whether a service alert message is needed, see
The service alert message may be generated by the ICS 20, by the accumulated data storage unit 26, and/or by the enterprise platform 32, depending on the criteria set for sending the message, see
As an alternative to the foregoing procedure, the ICS 20 may send an error code to the enterprise platform, and the service alert is then generated by the enterprise platform based on the rules and criteria that have been established. In this alternative, the data storage unit 26 also would not itself send service alerts or messages to manufacturers or others; rather, such alerts and messages would also be sent by the enterprise platform.
In one embodiment, a service alert message is generated only for an error status. The message may include a complete solution to the error including identification of which unit has failed, error type, other relevant data from the equipment (e.g., odometer reading), and (low priority) technical support information with step-by-step instruction on how to correct and suggested parts needed. In addition, service alert messages may be generated and sent to club managers when preventive maintenance is needed.
As will be appreciated by a reading of the above, there are numerous configurations possible regarding service alert messages. Particularly desirable aspects include the use of a wireless communication of the service alert message (e.g., email, SMTP/IP, voice mail, pager, text message, satellite communication, cellular connection, etc.), the ability to send the alert message to one or more recipients, and the ability for the message to be sent automatically and in electronic form.
In accordance with yet other aspects of this invention and initially referring to
In one embodiment, log-on access to the interface 190 is provided by a Web-based (preferably, access-controlled) system linking the user via the enterprise platform to an accumulated data storage unit 26. Real time data may be obtained from a ICS 20 through network 29 (e.g., Internet, intranet), accessed by direct dial-up account, cellular phone line, cable modem, satellite modem, etc. Alternatively, in systems having ICSs that continuously send their real time data to the accumulated data storage unit 26, the secondary link to the ICS(s) may be unnecessary.
In one embodiment, the user can request and review service information data only and cannot make any changes, see
In general, the user obtains information from the reporting interface by selecting one of a number of different topics as described below with respect to
The interface includes multiple pages of information, with numerous opportunities for the user to select the desired information and put it in a desired format.
Describing the reporting interface 190 in more detail,
If the Service Alert category 204 is selected, as discussed above, the present invention generates a service alert message 229 to applicable recipients when an FEU is in need of service. The recipients may include the club/facility manager or other responsible personnel 192, a service provider or technician 194, customer support personnel of the FEU's manufacturer 196, as well as the system administrator 198.
As described above, a service alert may be automatically generated by a change in state of the FEU when a service matter arises. As also noted above, a service alert can be sent via a network 29 using numerous different types of communication access modes. The service alerts of the present invention can decrease the down time of the FEU by facilitating quick, unobtrusive service by relaying pertinent information to the service provider before he/she arrives at the site of the FEU. This can not only result in cost savings to the club/facility owner/operator, but can also decrease the negative impression for customers/members of the club/facility.
A second inquiry that a user can select from the menu screen 202 of the reporting interface 190 is the Purchase History category 206 which leads one to a purchase history query interface screen 240. This screen may be utilized to create reports showing the installation date, usage, and service history of FEUs. This information is of significant use to club/facility owners and operators, for instance when deciding to replace units. The query can select multiple parameters, including the manufacturer 242 of the FEUs, and the type 244 of FEU, whether treadmill, exercise cycle, climber, elliptical machine, or other type. The query can also be based on a particular facility location or a region of the country 246. Further selectable parameters include the hour usage 248 of the FEU or the mileage 250 on the FEU's odometer. The installation date 252 of the FEU is also a selectable parameter as well as the warranty expiration date 254 of the FEU or portion or components of the FEU. At the purchase history interface screen 240, it is also possible to select primary and secondary sort criteria (not shown), for instance by manufacturer, product type, installation dates, etc., at the primary sort submenu 256.
An example of a resulting report screen 258 based on the parameters selected in the query screen 240 is shown in
From column 274 of report 258, the user can, for a specific FEU, obtain a service history report, which is described below relative to
A third category of information shown in
The information in
In the upper portion of the report screen 346, shown in
The service history report shown in screen 346 at the upper portion thereof identifies the query selections from
Further, in screen 346, warranty expiration dates are provided for not only different portions of the FEU, but also for parts 387 and labor 388. The portions of the FEU for which expiration dates are set forth include the frame 390, the display unit 391, the motor 392, and the motor fan 393. As apparent, a significant amount of information is provided in screen 346 concerning the service history of the particular unit FEU selected. Of course, the screen 346 need not provide all of the foregoing information if not required or desired by the user. Also, some of the foregoing information could be provided in other screens instead of the unit service history screen. This is true of all of the report screens illustrated and discussed herein.
It will be appreciated that the service history information enables the user to determine what maintenance has been performed in and out of warranty, and the cost of the maintenance that has been completed in and out of warranty. Also, this information helps the user make purchasing decisions in terms of replacing or buying new FEUs.
From the user interface menu screen 202, the user can also select the Peak Times option 212 leading to query screen 400 which provides information concerning usage of FEUs during the hours of a day. The parameters that can be selected for this inquiry, as shown in screen 400, include, for example, the sites or locations of the FEUs 402, whether at all locations, in different regions of the country, or at specific locations. It is possible to select more than one of these locations for this particular inquiry or more than one of the other parameters available in this or other query screens described herein. Such other parameters include the time period 404 of the inquiry, the days of the week 406 of the inquiry, so that the report can be selected for a particular day of the week or days of the week. The selectable parameters also include product categories 408, for example, treadmills, cycles, climbers, ellipticals, or all of the above, as well as manufacturers of the FEUs 410 and particular models 412 from such manufacturers.
The resulting report is provided in tabular and graphical format, for example, in report screen 413, as shown in
From the interface menu screen 202, another selection is Product Popularity or Usage 214, which analyzes the percent of available hours that a selected product group has been used. As discussed above with respect to the Peak Time analysis, from the Product Popularity or Usage analysis, product groups can be defined as one or more products, for example one specific FEU, all FEUs of a particular model, all FEUs in a particular product category, for instance treadmills, all FEUs in a product category from a particular manufacturer, an FEU of a product category from all manufacturers, all cardio FEUs at a particular site or group of sites, etc. As shown in query screen 440 of
As illustrated in the upper screen 454, the analysis illustrated in
The lower portion 470 of
Of course, the tabular and graphical information provided in
Preventative Maintenance (PM) tracking 216 is another possible selection from the interface menu 202 shown in
The report results are tabulated in screen 501, shown in
It will be appreciated that the information provided in
From the menu screen 202 of the report interface, the Unit Workout History 218 may be selected by the user. These summaries provide how products or product groups are utilized in the clubs and gyms, for example the workout courses used, lengths of the workouts, the speeds and resistance levels that are being used. This information can be helpful to the club/facility owner/manager as well as manufacturers to determine how better to offer training, instruction, and appropriate equipment to members/customers. When the Unit Workout History option 218 is selected, the user is led to a query screen 513, shown in
The information for the Unit Workout History report may be provided in graphical and/or tabular format, shown in
A further selection available from the menu screen 202 of the report interface of
Trouble Shooting Service Issues 222 comprise a further inquiry that can be made through the menu screen 202 of the report interface 190. This selection helps a user obtain more information concerning a service alert. When a service alert is received, the user can select the Model type and the error code, and thereby receive a list of common trouble shooting ideas. The user can also see the parts required to repair the FEU so as to be able to order the parts more easily. To this end, the user is provided with views of the product and is given instructions from the manufacturer's user manual. For example, as shown in
A further available selection from the menu screen 202 is the Automatic Parts Inventory 224. In this option, when an error code indicates that replacement of a part is necessary, Service Tracker™ tells the manufacturer that a particular part is required. The manufacturer's internal system can automatically send or offer to send the part to the location predesignated by the customer, whether to a warehouse, a third party service provider warehouse, club location, etc. As will be apparent, this particular option can speed the repair of the affected FEU.
The user interface screen 202 also allows the user to obtain specific current status and maintenance reports for all FEUs owned by the user through the service menu 570, as shown in
When the All Units Service Status 572 is selected, a report is displayed for the service status of all units owned by the user, shown in screen 577 of
Further information is provided in the screen 596 for a particular unit, see
The service history record of the FEU may be provided, as shown in screen 624,
Through selection of the Unit Status Search 574 in menu 570, the foregoing information can be obtained for a particular FEU owned by the user, by navigating through applicable selection options in a standard manner.
From menu 570, the user can also obtain a current preventative maintenance report for any or all of the user's units at a particular location or at all locations and as of a particular date. Screen 660 sets forth a preventative maintenance report for all of the user's FEUs in tabular form, see
The interface screen 202 in
If the Current Usage option 702 is selected, the information about the current usage of the user's FEUs is provided in tabular format, for example see screen 712, shown in
It is possible to obtain the usage history of a particular FEU by selecting that particular FEU in
Completion of query screen 734 results in the generation of a report screen 780 which provides a usage history of the FEU for the time period selected. Identification information for the FEU is set forth at the top of screen 780, including the manufacturer's Model designation 782, the manufacturer's serial number of the FEU 784, the S/W 786, and the communications address for the FEU 788. The historical information on the usage of the FEU includes the time 790 and the date 792 that each workout began as well as the course chosen for the workout 794, the number of calories expended during the workout 796, the workout distance in the number of strides or mileage covered 798, and the duration of the workout 800. As will be apparent, this information can be valuable in telling the user how a particular FEU is being utilized by customers.
If the Usage Trends option 704 is selected in menu 700, graphical representations of equipment usage for a desired time period is presented for a desired product group, for example as shown in screen 900, see
Option 706 in menu 700 allows the user to obtain usage information for a particular FEU. This option can lead the user through menus similar to those described above to select a desired FEU, and then the information for that FEU is displayed in a manner identical or very similar to that shown in
As noted above, other interface systems, formats, and layouts can be utilized in the present invention in place of interface 190.
Selecting the Installation and Warranty Tracking option 1010 in
Once a location is chosen, the user is led to the next screen, screen 1022, shown in
Next, the user is directed to screen 1040 shown in
The last query screen 1070 is shown in
Screen 1080 shown in
Typically, the foregoing installation and warranty information is retained in a data silo 26 as opposed to an ICS for security reasons. In a data silo, it is possible to limit the ability to enter, delete and/or change installation and warranty expiration data.
As noted above, service for a FEU can be requested from
In accordance with other features of the reporting interface aspect, the reporting interface includes the ability to request additional maintenance or action from one or more other recipients. This request is treated similar to a service alert message as discussed above, except it originates with the user in the reporting interface. This feature is useful to clear a record or to simply give feedback information from the user to the ICS or other party.
As will be appreciated from a reading of the above, the present invention provides numerous advantages over the prior art methods of service tracking and alerting. The use of multiple ICSs 20 to electronically and wirelessly obtain and store real time service information in a centralized manner is efficient and provides tremendous access to actual service data. The connection to an accumulated data storage unit 26 enables viewers to analyze FEU service issues over an extended period of time. The service alert messaging aspect shortens the time needed to identify, diagnose, and repair or service a particular FEU.
Further, the reporting interface feature automatically formulates service information and makes the information instantaneously available to the user, thus giving the user valuable insight into the operation and maintenance of the FEUs. This ability to view aggregated data between clubs and between products simultaneously and on a real time basis is unique in the fitness industry. Such service information may be used to level the usage of the FEUs, determine when an FEU should be replaced, make better future FEU purchases, help the facility managers to better know their customers, enable facility managers to provide better motivation or training to their customers, etc.
While a preferred embodiment of the invention has been illustrated and described, it will be appreciated that various changes can be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. For example, if only one data silo is used, it can be essentially integrated into the enterprise platform. Also, rather than retaining any significant amount of data or records in the ICS, the data received by the ICS from the FEUs can be sent immediately to the data silo 26 or to enterprise platform 32, or can be sent periodically and then the data purged from the ICS. In this regard, the ICS does not have to be configured to manipulate or store data other than the data being accumulated from the ICSs.
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|U.S. Classification||482/8, 482/9, 482/1|
|International Classification||A63B24/00, G06Q10/00, A63B71/00|
|Cooperative Classification||A63B2225/50, A63B24/00, G06Q10/06, A63B2225/305, Y10S482/901|
|European Classification||G06Q10/06, A63B24/00|
|2 Jul 2004||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: PRECOR INCORPORATED, WASHINGTON
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:AINSWORTH, MARK E.;SILBERNAGEL, ROBERT J.;BELL, SUSAN W.M.;REEL/FRAME:015547/0392
Effective date: 20040318
|8 Mar 2013||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 4
|11 May 2017||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 8